SAIPAN – Rota Mayor Efraim Atalig and his co-defendant and girlfriend Evelyn Atalig have asked the federal court for a postponement of their trial so they can find a new private investigator.
Through their court-appointed attorneys David Banes and Steven Pixley, the defendants filed a joint motion for a postponement of their trial and pretrial deadlines to be reset.
Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona of the District Court for the Northern Marianas has scheduled the Ataligs’ trial for Oct. 1 at 10 a.m. A pretrial conference was scheduled for Sept. 9 at 1:30 p.m.
The Ataligs are accused of arranging Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands government-funded trips to California, Palau, Guam, and Saipan under fraudulent pretenses.
The superseding indictment filed by the U.S. government against the defendants charged them with conspiracy, wire fraud, theft from program receiving federal funds, and two counts of false statements.
According to the defendants’ joint motion for continuance of trial, “There is a significant number of potential witnesses located on Rota, Saipan, and even outside the CNMI" such as on Guam, and in U.S. mainland.
To adequately prepare for defense, the Ataligs’ lawyers said they need to hire a private investigator to conduct investigations and obtain information from potential witnesses.
Following Mayor Atalig's quadruple bypass surgery in the Philippines, the court granted a delay on his trial so he could get treatment and recovery.
The Ataligs, upon their return to the CNMI, discussed with their lawyers the hiring of a private investigator and interviewed potential witnesses.
The Ataligs agreed to hire Clyde Norita as their private investigator on May 22.
Multiple meetings were held with Norita to discuss the status of the investigation. “Norita stated that he would travel to Rota and Guam to interview potential witnesses,” the defense lawyers said.
But Norita’s company, Trublu Resources, was recently hired by the CNMI government to provide federally funded Census services.
Norita informed the Ataligs that he was advised by his attorney that he could no longer do outside work because of his employment by the CNMI government.
As a result, their lawyers said the Ataligs need time to find a new private investigator and allow the new investigator to conduct an investigation, including interviewing potential witnesses.
The defense lawyers asked the court to continue the trial to a date convenient to the court.
In the CNMI Superior Court, Mayor Atalig and seven of his resident directors have been accused of taking government-funded per diem and salary compensation to attend a Republican Party rally on Guam on June 23, 2018.
Presiding Judge Roberto Naraja has rescheduled the jury trial for the Rota officials for Jan. 13, 2020.